Exploring Waterford's Ancient Monuments
Tooreen Megalithic Complex
Monuments of the Nire Vally
Tooreen is a townsland in the ancient civil parish of Seskinan in the barony of Glenahiry and is part of the modern day catholic parish to Toureena and the Nire.
It can be further subdivided into Tooreen West, Tooreen East and Tooreen Mountain. In Gaelic it is “An Tuairín” and can be translated as “Little pasture.”
It is here we find some of the most ancient of archaeological remains within the southern slopes of the valley of the Nire River. There is evidence of several Fulacht Fia, ancient field systems and settlements, a stone circle, a stone row and a pair of Bronze Age Barrows, one of which contains evidence of a cist burial. It is in fact a megalithic complex and should be viewed in its entirety. It enjoys a peaceful and remote aspect, though is relatively easy to access and has some of the most stunning scenery anywhere in Ireland.
The Stone Circle (pictured above) which has variously been described as a Kerb Circle, is set in a small clearing within conifer woodland. It is approximately 6m in diameter with most of its stones intact, though some have fallen. It currently consists of eleven conglomerate stones varying in height from 0.2 – 0.65 metres and there may be a possible outlier stone also. Stone Circles are thought to have been constructed for ritual or ceremonial purposes during the late Bronze Age and are relatively rare in Co Waterford.
It is thought that the Tooreen circle may be astronomically aligned. This site has not been excavated. There is no doubt that an aura of mystery and indeed sacredness surrounds this site. The Bronze Age in Ireland refers to an era that stretched from circa 2,000 B.C. to about 500 B.C. It was a time when new technologies in metal working were developed. Alloys of copper and tin became bronze and tools and utensils became fashioned from metal and not from stone. The Copper Coast of Waterford is rich in such ores and would have been a mecca for copper mining, smelting, working and trading. Numerous stone circles were erected at this time, especially in Munster.
A short distance away in Tooreen West sits a Stone Alignment. This is a linear arrangement of upright stones set in intervals along an axis. These alignments usually date from the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age. This site is in some sources described as containing three stones and in others four. The encroaching forest and dense vegetation further hinder a laywoman’s study so it is easy to account for the confusion. I counted four which are aligned in a North West to South East direction and they descend in height from just over one meter in height to half a meter and the row is approximately five and a half meters long. Given its proximity to the stone circle it is likely that they are linked in some way. Again, their purpose is thought to be ceremonial and it may mark a processional route.
There are no less than two Barrows in Tooreen East. They are considered to be Ring Barrows, one of which contains evidence of a Cist Burial. (These are single grave cists and became the burial of choice towards the end of the Bronze Age.) They usually comprise of a small, usually rectangular, stone chest which is in turn covered with a stone slab or lid and can usually be found just beneath the ground surface. In general ring-barrows may be defined as:
“ A mound, usually of earth, heaped over burial places (was) in use from Neolithic times… though (they) were typically a feature of Bronze Age burial, and usually covered a single grave…”
Ville, 1971, 43.
Barrows often have evidence of an internal ditch and bank and this is the case in Tooreen East with one of the Ring Barrows at OS 6:13:2 (109,99) is described in the Archaeological Inventory of County Waterford, page 19, as a “Heather-covered mound defined by a fosse with an outer bank.” It measures 9.2 meters East/West and 7.2 meters North/South and rises to a height of about one meter. The cist is open to the elements in the middle of the mound suggesting that it has at some time in its history been disturbed. It measures 2.75 meters x 2.3 meters.
Archaeological evidence of other Ring Barrows in Ireland suggests that while many date from Neolithic times and their construction continued into the Iron Age, their hiatus was during the early and mid-periods of the Bronze Age. The second Ring Barrow in Tooreen East sits on the North facing slope at OS 6:13:6 (159, 68) and is hachured on the map. (Hachured contour lines are contour lines with ticks pointing downslope that indicate a depression on a topographic map.) It is situated within a clearing of the pine woodland also and has a circular platform shape, with a flat bottomed ditch and an outer bank and is 10 meters in diameter. The ditch measures 2 - 3 meters with the outer bank having a width of 3 meters and a height varying from 7 -1.2 meters. The other ditch is covered in fern and it is evident from these dimensions that it was a notable site.
The Bronze Age in Ireland is synonymous with climate change. New methods of farming were developed due to the upgrading of tools. As a result extensive deforestation ensued; more fire wood was needed for smelting and keeping the home fires burning. In his article “Historical Settlement Patterns in Rural Ireland,” Michael Gibbons states;
“By 2,500 B.C an active Bronze Age mining industry developed in the south -west based on copper deposits on the shores of the Killarney lakes the earliest such mines in Western Europe. The widespread use and trade in copper mirrored an earlier trade in marble, pitchstone and porcellinite. The development of a metallurgy led to a change in society, a whole new suite of monuments began to emerge standing stones-single, row and circles appear in great profusion. In the later Bronze Age 1,500 and 1,000 B.C. large defended settlement appear, some on as massive scale of 50 plus hectares, began to appear. This coincided with a major expansion of population, which saw virtually every valley, bog and island however remote being colonized. This expansion marked a second major spike in the population, which in turn collapsed leaving behind extensive settlement. Stranded on the Burren uplands, and surviving beneath virtually every blanket bog from Inis Owen to the Nire Valley in the Comeragh mountains. “
So the next time you consider the sleepy hollow of the Nire Valley, with its rustic charm and extraordinary beauty, nestled in the Comeraghs range, remind yourself that it was once at the forefront of a thriving Bronze Age society. This is the era before the emergence of Christianity, in an age when the massive ice caps had retreated in this glacial valley.
One can almost hear the echo of hammer on anvil across the valley floor. What other secrets are carried on the wind. It is not unlikely to muse that perhaps a gold cuff or torc worn by an ancient King or Queen of a tuath or a province was fashioned here. Who knows?
This article by Maura Barrett 11/11/2012.
Photo of Tooreen Stone Circle courtesy of Mike Wall Photography www.mikewallphoto.com/
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